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“old or new?”

May 17, 2011 at 1:26 am

A favorite game of mine, when wandering around looking at buildings, is to try & figure out whether a building is old or new, whether details are the product of restoration or are authentically original, etc. Sometimes this is clearly apparent and not worth wondering about — sometimes it is very difficult! I was just in Philadelphia and I had the interesting experience of having to play this game with the remnant of a building…

My friend Dan S & I saw this with simultaneous mutual gasps of awesomeness: “aaah look how cool they tore down the house and you can still see the wallpaper!!”

Then I said, “wwwwwait a second, I’m pretty sure that’s some kind of recent art project… because I’m pretty sure I took pictures of that same side-of-a-building a while ago, with no wallpaper on it…”

We had a half an hour till I had to get on the bus, so we walked up to check it out (on Vine St, right north of Chinatown).

The wallpaper could have been screenprinted, but upon closer examination, it was some kind of digital output onto a glossy coating on a fibrous Tyvek-type material — we found a couple of scraps around the site! It was pasted onto the building side with a heavy (I guessed plastic-based) glue, and carefully cut and sliced to create a ripped-looking edge.

(click on any of these images to enlarge)

Ultimately the patterns are (more-or-less) too large in scale to be authentic Victorian wallpaper — and many of them are mirrored across an axis instead of repeating more subtly, also not a “real wallpaper” hallmark. But I think the artist’s intentions were not to replicate a historic thing, but to create something that would echo the intricate busy-ness of Victoriana, push passers-by — in a creative way — to think about the former inhabitation of the building that had existed in that place, and maybe make some people (like us) play the “old or new?” game…

I know nothing about the makers of the installation, but I can’t imagine that it was done without permission of the building owners; it would have been much too visible and time-consuming of an endeavor. Anybody know anything about it? Phila. folks out there reading this?

[UPDATE! Amy fills us in that this project, entitled “Home That Was”, was commissioned by the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, and done by the artist Ben Volta working with Phila. high school students, who designed the patterns. Here’s Ben’s blog & writing about the project, showing some of the process that they used in the creation of the mural… Thank you, Amy!]

I have many dreams of pattern– and wallpaper-making, and seeing this just amplifies them… What a neat project.

When I returned to Providence & my computer, I did indeed find these pictures from my cellphone camera, December 2009:


Also when I was in Philadelphia, I went to my high school reunion! It was pretty all right, as these things go… I did leave with a feeling of “hey! wow! I survived!” but I was really glad I went.

The ladies at the check-in table were totally unfazed by the name shift, just impressed by my ‘artistic skills’ as exemplified by my letter-drawing and pulling out my razorknife to slice & edit the nametag… :)

5 Comments »

  1. You are amazing.

    Comment by Will B — May 19, 2011 @ 9:50 am
  2. Ian! Congrats on your reunion!

    I love your old building detective work! Do you remember in Chicago when they were tearing down the Robert Taylor Homes? All the projects up and down state street? In the name of never-built mixed income housing? Huge cranes bashed holes in peoples homes and I remember seeing through the gaping holes and crumbly concrete to lacy curtains left in windows, lavender painted rooms, striped wallpaper, and yellow interiors exposed to the outside air. It was one of the saddest things.

    Comment by Emmy — May 24, 2011 @ 11:23 pm
  3. LOVE that wallpaper, as wallpaper is kind of a thing with me too. Thanks for sharing!

    Comment by deb — June 6, 2011 @ 12:03 pm
  4. That piece was commissioned by the Philadelphia Mural Arts Project and was made by the artist Ben Volta along with Philly high school students. They designed all the patterns. I love it too!

    Comment by Amy — August 29, 2011 @ 8:54 am
  5. Amy! thanks for filling in the blanks! you did that collaboration with Erik Ruin… & the rest of your work looks really, really beautiful & evocative. thanks for sharing the link to your website!

    Emmy, I wasn’t there for that demolition, but I was in Chicago for a public-housing-tower implosion that happened right near the lake… I can’t remember the name of the buildings… but my then-boyfriend & I (& all the other spectators) got covered in a huge cloud of pulverized dust of people’s former homes, it was really intense… I made a comic about that building complex, I’ll send you a link when I get it up on the website!

    thanks Will, & thanks Deb!

    Comment by ian — October 12, 2011 @ 12:35 pm

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